Yesterday saw Dr Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s Antiquities chief, travel to Berlin to discuss the future of the Bust of Nefertiti with the director of the Neues Museum, her current home (watch a slideshow about the move). Yet statements released by both parties today appear to disagree on what was to be said at the showdown.
The Bust of Nefertiti (or Nofretete in German) has long been in the crosshair of Dr Hawass’ quest to repatriate Egypt’s showcase artefacts. Yet despite her place as one of his ‘famous five’ targets, the Neues Museum insists no formal approach was to be made concerning her future: “Friederike Seyfried, director of the Egyptian Museum Berlin, will travel to Cairo for a first visit to talk with Zahi Hawass about common projects,” its statement reads.
“There will be no negotiations about the restitution of Nefertiti’s bust,” the statement adds. “Documents about the division of finds of 1912 will be given to the Egyptian side.” This may have been news to Dr Hawass, however, whose blog yesterday listed little more than the arguments for Nefertiti’s return.
He writes that the bust’s discoverer, Ludwig Borchardt, deliberately mis-categorised it so that it could leave Egypt. Borchart is purported to have listed the bust as that of a princess, made in plaster – when in fact it is the limestone bust of Egypt’s most mysterious queen. “These materials confirm Egypts contention that Borchardt did act unethically, with intent to deceive,” Dr Hawass writes.
Dr Seyfried does not have the authority to permit any repatriation, but Dr Hawass is set to call a meeting of the National Committee for the Return of Stolen Artefacts later this week, when he will make a formal request for the bust’s return. Museum officials have remained coy on the artefact, insisting they would look at loan options only if no risk of damage was involved.
The Bust of Nefertiti is one of Ancient Egypt’s most enigmatic treasures. Some scholars believe her to be a fake, while others argue the famous bust is the real deal and has another, different face buried beneath her polychromed plaster facade. Dr Hawass has recently called for the return of the Rosetta Stone during a trip to London, and has repeatedly argued that the Dendera Zodiac should fly back to Egypt from Paris’ Louvre.